Did Annette Hoyt Flanders design the Morven gardens, or restore them? This has been an ongoing question in my research, and the answer largely depends on historic perspective. Many of the “restoration” projects undertaken by Arthur Shurcliff and Alden Hopkin the 20th century might be described as “colonial revival” designs today: Colonial Williamsburg and the UVA Lawn Gardens, among others, were restored based archaeology, and studies of landscapes from the same period. The landscape architects had to make many “design decisions” and conjectures on their own because no record of the previous garden design existed.
In describing the Morven gardens, I tend to say that they were designed by Annette Hoyt Flanders. However, it is important to note that some gardens pre-existed Flanders’ work, and that her design drew much from these plans. Descriptions of the gardens’ condition and Flanders’ role have changed over time.
According to the 1923 edition of Historic Gardens of Virginia,
In 1906, Mr. Samuel Marshall bought Morven from the Smith heirs, and since that time the old garden has been renewed. …
The big box-tree, the white violets, and the striped grass by the garden gates, the tall bamboos and the lovely hollyhocks that take possession every year, are the plantings of other hands than the present owners. The old terraces have not all been restored, but there has never been found any drawn plan of the original garden. Some say that the view from the garden is lovelier than anything in it. …
The present garden has on one side a hedge of box grown from cuttings taken from the big box-tree. Around the driveway, which leads to the entrance to the house, there is a new box hedge which the owner calls her “war hedge”. This was bough in February, 1917, from a Belgian salesman who told her that these plants were the last shipment that could be made out of Belgium, as the German submarine ultimatum had gone into effect. Happily, the plants have all survived and flourished, taking courage, no doubt, from the soil which started them.”
The author of this piece was Josephine P. Mashall – Mr. Samuel Marshall’s wife. The Albemarle Garden Club was founded at Morven in 1913, and Josephine Marshall served as its first president. As the piece indicates, the Marshalls cared for and added to gardens already existing at Morven, although no historic plan existed.
Six years later, by the time of the publication of the 1929 Descriptive Guide Book of Virginia’s Old Gardens, the gardens were described,
“The place has been bough by Mr. Charles Stone, of New York, under whose wise care the garden is being restored to its original beauty.”
If Josephine Marshall was an avid gardener, why was restoration necessary in 1929? The 1953 Homes and Gardens in Old Virginia provides additional description of the gardens’ change over time,
“After Mr. Higginbotham’s death the property changed hands a number of times and in 1926 Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Stone purchased it from Mr. Samuel Marshall. Mrs. Marshall had loved and cared for the old gardens, which had suffered somewhat from the ravages of time, and, in 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Stone began to rebuild them. In doing so they were careful to retain the earliest known designs and with the wealth of flowers and shrubs that they have planted, they have added beauty while losing none of the old charm.”
Based on these descriptions, the garden during the Marshall-era incorporated plantings that predated their ownership although no plan existed, and the Stone-era garden (designed or restored by Annette Hoyt Flanders) incorporated plantings from the Marshall-era. While, as noted, no plan for the pre-Marshall-era design exists, it is possible to compare the Marshall-era and Annette Hoyt Flanders plans for the Formal Garden.
Left, Marshall-era plan for the Formal Garden, published in the 1923 edition of Historic Gardens of Virginia. Right, Annette Hoyt Flanders plan for the Formal Garden.
Above are similarly-scaled plans for the Formal Garden during the Marshall-era and as drawn by Annette Hoyt Flanders. Because the graphic conventions were so different, I have redrawn each using the same symbology. The proportions do not exactly match, and it is not determined whether this is simply a difference in drawing/surveying, reproduction, or an actual change in the garden itself. But, looking more closely, certain similarities and differences do emerge.
Planting Plan Comparison
The general shape of the formal plantings is similar; however there is more differentiation between plants in the Flanders plan, where the Marshall-era plan simply indicates “lillies”. Boxwoods, shown darker, are used to frame space in each plan.
The beds are arranged similarly with respect to the large boxwood (box-tree).
However, where the beds in the Marshall-era plan were focused around a series of centers (crepe myrtles and a sculpture), these centers are absent from the Flanders plan.
And where the Marshall-era plan conceived of these beds as borders surrounding turf panels, in the Flanders plan the beds are fully planted. The Flanders plan also includes additional beds to either side – indicating that the garden was enlarged from this center.
In the Marshall-era plan, vegetable gardens surround the Formal Garden. In the Flanders Plan, vegetable gardens are maintained in the Cutting Garden area, but removed from the area below the Formal Garden: this is converted into an overlook.
Each plan uses stairs to establish grade changes. The Flanders plan makes additional use of walls to define space. Trellises help define the boundary of each garden.
Each garden incorporates grade change – but in the Flanders Plan, a terrace is created at the trellises and box-tree. This terrace is not indicated in the Marshall-era plan.
It is clear from this analysis that Flanders incorporated aspects of the existing garden – however her plan enlarged the garden, adding additional beds to either side of the existing garden and creating a cutting garden. The beds, while occupying the same footprint, were made fuller and more intensively planted. A terrace was likely created – meaning that the Flanders garden was likely flatter than the Marshall-era garden.
While there are continuities between the Flanders Plan and the Marshall-era garden, and perhaps between the Marshall-era garden and designs previous to it, it is clear that Flanders substantially changed the planting plan, introduced new elements, and possibly regraded the Formal Garden. Therefore, I feel comfortable describing this as a design.